Auto shop project makes case for returning to MCHS

by Dante Benedetti, op-ed editor

Because of distance learning, teachers of many of Maria Carrillo High School’s classes have had to radically alter how their material is taught. One such class is auto shop. A class that is almost entirely hands-on has been a challenge to teach over Zoom. So when Assistant Principal Albert Ettedgui, this year’s temporary shop instructor, was approached by MCHS senior Harrison Douglass with a request to use the shop to repair his car, Ettedgui saw it as an opportunity to give some students physical instruction and to help him and the program in the process.

Douglass, who is enrolled in MCHS auto shop program, had recently blown a cylinder in his 2014 Ford Focus ST. He said he initially “panicked, and went to bed crossing [his] fingers hoping that when [he] woke up in the morning it would be fine.” However, over the next couple of days, he learned from mechanics that his engine would need to be entirely replaced and that it would cost him from $6,000 to $9,000, which he did not have. It was then that he began to research replacing the engine himself, and he figured if Ettedgui could let him use the shop, then he may have a good chance of saving some serious money.

Ettedgui was immediately on board with the plan, hoping to make a presentation of some sort to the board of Santa Rosa City Schools to prove to them that auto shop is a vital class for students to take. 

“This program could have been lost,” said Ettedgui of the start of this year. “We didn’t have a teacher, and we don’t want [auto shop] to die. I came on board as long as we don’t have a teacher.”

“Working on cars requires in person [instruction]. It’s not something you can do with a keyboard.”

– Miller Lee

Even though Ettedgui works hard as the assistant principal at MCHS, his willingness to add to his schedule showed his commitment to the auto shop and its students.

Before Douglass’ project could be executed, he had to appeal, with the assistance of Ettedgui, to the district office and ensure that there would be a health screening and COVID-19 protocol would be followed. In addition to this, he also would need the help of someone more experienced than either himself or Ettedgui. For this, he reached out to Steele Witchek, a recruiter from Wyoming Technical Institute, more commonly known as “WyoTech.” Witchek in turn reached out to Miller Lee, an automotive technician from WyoTech who specializes in high performance cars such as Douglass’s. Both men expressed their willingness to help out Douglass and were present on the day of the engine swap in late December of last year.

“If outside people [like us] help out, then it gets kids excited about auto shop,” said Witchek. “If this shop closed, then kids would not get the exposure needed if they wanted to go into a career in auto.” 

 Lee said he wanted to help Douglass because “working on cars requires in person [instruction]. It’s not something you can do with a keyboard.”

Miller Lee examines the engine mounts before attempting to remove the engine.

On the actual day of the project, Lee instructed Douglass and Cameron Doll, friend and fellow senior, in removing the broken engine and replacing it with one Douglass had bought. Everyone assembled around 8:00 a.m. at the MCHS auto shop and worked almost non-stop until 1:45 p.m. There were a few mishaps along the way: for instance, the engine was briefly stuck on the engine mounts, and this resulted in a broken radiator fan cover when attempting to remove it. In addition, they also discovered that the replacement engine Douglass had bought had a problem of its own, and progress was halted until a new one could arrive. However, an invaluable amount of work was accomplished and Douglass expressed his gratitude.

“I’m super thankful to Ettedgui and the guys from WyoTech for helping me do this,” said Douglass after the engine finally came out. “It’s pretty great.” 

Douglass was back in the shop on Monday, Feb. 1, where he was able to successfully put in a new, working engine. Ettedgui hopes that now the project is complete, he can make his presentation to the school board. Both Ettedgui and Douglass expressed their happiness at the project’s success.

Harrison Douglass examines a snag that is preventing the engine from being removed.

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